It's not difficult to decipher why so many Louisville fans were nervous about Monday night's game against Long Beach State. The 49ers are long, athletic and experienced; the same makeup that has given the Cardinals fits in non-conference play over the past few years. Add in the fact that the still injury-plagued Cards have a high-profile Friday night clash against No. 19 Vanderbilt looming, and the recipe for an upset certainly appeared to be in play. And if you need a simpler justification, LBSU had already gone on the road and beaten Pittsburgh by ten.
Louisville responded to the challenge posed by getting off to its sharpest start to date and giving its best overall performance of the young season. U of L's three best players had four fouls with more than six minutes to play, the Cards were outrebounded (36-31) and they shot just 1-of-8 from three in the second half. To have all that happen and still walk away with a 13-point victory over a quality opponent is an evening that signifies, to me at least, tremendous potential.
This team might not be where we thought it was going to be at this point, but that's no one's fault but the injury Devil. All things considered, making it out of November unscathed would be a tremendous accomplishment and a large indication of the crazy potential this team has should it eventually get all its potential pieces back.
He had six turnovers and made some out-of-character decisions, but it's still apparent now that he's back just how much Peyton Siva makes this team go. It's almost like U of L is playing an entirely different game when Siva's out of the lineup.
I'm not sure if it's because he spent so much time in the offseason working on it and talking about it, but Siva appears to be thinking about his jump shot way too much right now. He's never going to magically morph into a tremendous jump shooter if he hasn't yet, but he's already proven in the past that he can be a serviceable one. He just needs to get out of his own head a little bit right now.
It's crazy to think how much of an asset Russ Smith has become. I know he drives almost all of us to near object-throwing at least once a game, but if you say that he's hurt us more than he's helped us through six games then you haven't been paying attention. He has a skill set that's extremely rare on this team, and if he had transferred after last season - which was at the stem of many a rumor - then there's no way this team copes without Siva (or with him hobbled) as well as it has.
I think my dad put it best at halftime: "Russ played well. I mean, he did some 'Russ things,' but that's going to happen."
"Russ things" are the new token Gorgui goaltend; you don't want them to happen, but they're going to, so you just have to deal with them.
Speaking of Gorgs, the big man was limited to 25 minutes because of foul trouble, but he came up huge when the game was still in doubt. He finished the evening with four defensive rebounds, tied with Chane Behanan for the most on the team. If he can get over whatever the mental block is that keeps him from going after the ball on the defensive end with the same ferocity that he does on offense, it'll be a giant boon for this team.
Casper Ware and Larry Anderson would contribute for any team in the Big East. They're very good, and their team will be too, eventually. The 49ers are going to play in the NCAA Tournament, and they have all the elements to win a game or two once they get there.
Credit Dan Monson for having Kyle Kuric well-scouted. Someone stuck right with KK in his corner every time Peyton Siva made a move to the basket. There was only one instance in which a 49er defender lost him, and that was signified with an extremely audible "ooohhhh sss------ttttt" from the offender right as Kuric was receiving the ball.
This wasn't a game where Kyle could flourish offensively if other people weren't creating looks for him, but he played a tremendous game on the other end of the floor. Still, we need more from him than seven and two.
We talked after the Arkansas State game about how well this team is already switching and communicating on defense, but Monday showcased just how advanced they are in understanding Pitino's zone with man principles defense. That was the defense that gave opponents fits last season, and LBSU struggled mightily with it last night. You just don't expect to see it executed so well this early in the year. Credit to all involved.
The lower bowl attendance was dismal. I hope these people realize that not only are they wasting seats that literally thousands of people would figuratively kill for, but they're making our entire fan base look bad on national television.
Favorite quote of the season thus far, without question: "Bullet breaks his nose, and he's got a helmet on in practice...We've got guys wearing helmets." --Rick Pitino
I laugh every time I think about it.
Chris Smith is to "solid" as Chane Behanan is to "beast."
I loved seeing him looking for his shot a little bit more in the second half, whether he was instructed to or not. I know his high-shooting percentage is one of his greatest assets, but against better teams we're going to need him to start forcing the issue a little bit, even if it means that percentage takes a hit (rhymes for days).
It's remarkable how valuable that guy has been to the program for the past two seasons. Even if he does "look like a weirdo."
You can have your "music" or your "decorations" or your "family," for me, nothing says Christmas time in Louisville like Santa Strong popping up on the Chronicle.
Love first half Mark Jackson Jr. more than I love Derby Pie. And I f'ing love Derby Pie.
Another really solid effort from Swop. You spend 20 minutes listening to the guy behind you bitch about his lack of foot speed and then you look up and he's got ten and six. Oh yeah, definitely.
Double oh yeah, definitely.
Mike Marra returns to his dress slacks roots and the Cards give their best performance of the season. Am I saying there's a correlation? Yeah.
Chris Smith: "It felt good because we actually tried to get into our real game, our transition flow," Smith said. "I mean, it feels good to put points up on the board because people have been looking at the score like, `Huh, Louisville only scores 50 points. Man, who is that?"'
Love that guy.
Thoroughly enjoyed my first Threehanan experience of the regular season.
Friday night at 9 against a nationally ranked opponent? Sounds like a good time.
Prayers for Bullet's nose.